Find a Security Clearance Job!


Redefining Aviation Support Concepts
AUTHOR Major Phillip L. Newman, USMC
CSC 1990
                        EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
     The face of Marine Aviation has been constantly changing since its
inception in WWI. The organization and concept of employment prior to
WWII made it possible for aviation to expand rapidly to meet the needs of
the Southern Pacific campaign. In order to meet aviation support
requirements, the concept for aviation support in WWII made use of supply
echelons, a flexible organization, and the ability to be mobile and task
organize as required.
     As the face of aviation changed during the 1950's, 60's, and into the
80's, the planners for aviation support had to constantly reevaluate and
refine the concept for aviation support. The future of Marine Aviation for
the year 2010 again seems to be changing its concept of employment. It is
now time to review the aviation support concepts of the past, take the
lessons learned, and apply them to a new support concept for the future.
Thesis Statement:  As the employment of Marine Aviation changed from
WWII, through the 1960s and into the 1980s, the aviation concepts which
supported it also changed. As the employment of Marine aviation now
seems to be making a drastic change by the year 2010, it is again time to
reevaluate the concepts which support it.
I.  Aviation Support Concepts during World War II
    A. squadron organization
    B. support base echelons
    C. mobile service squadrons
    D. escort carriers
II. Present Aviation Support Concept
    A. 1960s composite units
    B. 1970s type units
    C. MALSC
    D. equipment and automation
    A. size
    B. automation
    C. expeditionery--once
IV. Aviation Employment in the Future
    A. mobility and lift
    B. all VSTOL
    C. rear area defense
V.  Redefining Support Concepts
    A. echeloning support
    B. squadron organization
    C. mobile equipment
   On South Pacific islands during World War II, Marine aviation was
employed for the first time in its ground support role as we know it today.
Aviation squadrons operating from forward, land-based airfields and off of
escort carriers (CVEs) supported the Marine war effort against the
Japanese from Guadalcanal and Wake Island all the way to its climax at
Okinawa. Marine aviation provided close air support to "mud Marines",
flew long-range interdiction missions against Japanese rear facilities and
airfields, attacked Japanese shipping on the high seas, and most notably,
decimated the Japanese air forces in the skies over the Pacific. This
tremendous achievement was even more remarkable when compared to the
status of Marine aviation prior to December 1941.
   In the years prior to WWII, Marine aviation consisted of only two Marine
Air Groups (MAGS). Each of these MAGs, one on the east coast of the United
States and the other on the west coast, consisted of four squadrons each.
Though there were not enough aircraft and personnel to fill out one Marine
air wing (MAW), the organizational structure making it possible to expand
to several air wings was in place. The foresight of Marine aviation
organizers prior to WWII enabled these two MAGs to expand from 2 MAGs
of 900 personnel to 4 MAWs of over 39,000 personnel in the years
December 1941 to December 1944. 1
   Prior to WWII the single west coast MAG consisted of only four
squadrons, but was stretched from Wake to Midway to Hawaii with the
headquarters and one squadron in San Diego. 2  Spread out over the
Pacific as they were, these squadrons had to be capable of independent,
sustained operations. The ability of these units to defend Wake Island
almost single-handedly, to provide air support at Guadalcanal against
Japanese air, naval and infantry units, and then later to advance
incrementally across the Pacific was also due in part to its concept of
aviation support.
   Just as the planners of aviation prior to WWII had the foresight to
envision the type of support required for that campaign, aviation support
planners today must have the foresight to envision the type of support
required for future campaigns. By applying the successes and lessons
learned from WWII, the present organization, structure and concept of
support can be analyzed and its capabilities predicted. As stated by RADM
Carter in his book, Beans, Bullets and Black Oil:
      While fighting is at times the deciding factor
      in warfare, it is possible only when the logistics
      needs of the fighters have been anticipated and
      met. From Napoleon at Waterloo to the German
      failure in the drive against Russia, history is
      full of trajedies and every operations planner
      should realize his utter dependence upon
      logistics. 3
   Support for Marine aviation during WWII was based on four principles:
a flexible squadron organization, echelons of support bases, mobile service
squadrons, and utilization of escort carriers. The doctrine then, as it is
now, was for squadrons to be the lowest aviation organization capable of
independent operations. Each squadron was so organized to be able, not only
to repair its aircraft, but also to materially support these aircraft from
whereever they were located. Squadrons contained their own supply
personnel whose task it was to obtain material support for the squadron's
maintenance effort. These supply personnel drew their support from three
sources operating in the rear.
     Forward support bases were constructed near the front line units as
they pressed forward against the Japanese. As American lines advanced,
numerous support bases were built. Upon initiation of a new island
operation, support would be pushed forward fron the previous base. As more
and more units secured larger areas on the new island, a new forward
support base would be constructed. Transfer of supplies fron the rear, to
amphibious forces, and then to the new forward support base was the task
of the Navy's mobile service squadrons.
     Mobile service squadrons were the invention of RADM Carter. 4  Early
in the Pacific campaign, the speed at which forces advanced and the
requirement to support the large, fast-attack carrier battle groups
necessitated the need for a mobile support unit. The mobile service
squadrons were formed to draw materials, mainly water, food, fuel and
ammunition, and then to resupply the carrier battle groups and the forward
support bases. This enabled Army and Marine units to have supplies
available at the nearest support base in their rear and enabled carrier
groups to sustain themselves on extended deployments. Initially these
Naval squadrons consisted of whatever type of ship could be found. Any
ship that could carry supplies was pressed into service. Later in the war,
ships of specific designs were constructed to perform the various resupply
tasks. Ocean-going oilers, food service ships, ammunitions ships and
various types of powered and non-powered barges were built to fill out the
growing mobile service squadrons. From less than 200 auxiliary ships, this
support fleet eventually grew to over 1100 ships by the invasion of
Okinawa. 5
     Another source from which Marine aviation drew support was from
the many escort carriers (CVEs). CVEs played many roles in the South
Pacific during the war, but their major role in support of the Marines was in
supplying replacement aircraft while taking on aircraft requiring extended
depot maintenance. The role of escort carriers was best summed up by
RADM Carter:
          Fighting results in something more than the
          mere necessity for replacing exhausted
          supplies. Battle damage ... was a major
          concern. 6
     From the end of WWII until the late 1950's, Marine aviaiton
organization remained virtually untouched. Squadrons were still fully
capable of independent action. These squadrons were grouped together into
composite MAGs with several MAGs forming a Marine Air Wing (MAW), of
which the Marine Corps was authorized three. Composite MAGs placed
several different types of aircraft within a single unit. Fighters, tankers
and attack asircraft were grouped together, as well as, transport and
assault helicopters together. The MAG headquarters squadrons were capable
of providing supply and intermediate maintenance to all assigned aircraft,
which gave the MAG the capability to deploy as a unit and be totally
self-sustaining. 7
     In the early 1960's, due to declining budgets the organization of
Marine aviation changed drastically. In order to take advantage of
equipment economies of scale and to optimize operating funds, all like types
of aircraft within a MAW were grouped together within a single MAG. 8  For
example, all fighter aircraft were placed in one MAG; all attack aircraft
were placed in another; all transport helicopters were placed in another,
and all assault helicopters in another. This reorganization made it possible
for aviation to remain operationally existent, but MAWs were no longer
organized for combat.
     In the mid- 1970's a restructuring of personnel drastically changed
the organization of aviation again. The Operational Logistics Concept (OLC)
removed all supply personnel from each squadron and placed them at the
MAG level. This movement of personnel was another change necessitated by
decling budgets and the need to provide more training and technical
knowledge to supply personnel earlier in their careers. While this
restructuring provided for greater efficiency, it became the second big step
in ensuring that squadrons were no longer capable of independent actions. In
order for Marine aviation to support ground forces, a major restructuring of
personnel and equipment would be required to comprise an aviation unit
smaller than a MAW.
     In 1983 the Marine Corps officially adopted the MAGTF concept. This
concept officially stated that Marines would be structured to deploy for
combat differently than they are structured during peacetime. The Marine
Corps would deploy as MEBs and be employed as MEFs. Again, the concept for
support of aviation changed. The new support concept (Marine Aviation
Logistics Support Concept or MALSC) adopted involved taking each MAG
headquarters (now Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron or MALS) squadron
and breaking it down into several building blocks. Each building block, or
contingency support package (CSP), of a MAG would consist of the personnel,
equipment and spare parts to support an individual squadron. By this means,
a task-organized aviation unit of any size could be built by drawing separate
blocks from several MAGs. For example, the MALS for a transport helicopter
squadron could be chosen as a base unit, and building blocks of assault helo
squadrons, attack squadrons, and fighter squadrons could be drawn from
other MAGs. These blocks would then be put together, forming a new MALS,
capable of providing aviation support to a new composite MAG for 90 days at
a combat rate.
     This building block method was also incorporated into new aircraft
procurements. Each squadron of CH53E and AV8B aircraft was procured with
equipment and spare parts in three separate packages. Each support
package capable of being separated from the parent MALS, attached to
another MALS, and able to support that aircraft detachment in combat
operations for 90 days.
     The MALSC method has made it possible to deploy squadrons to
support MEUs, composite MAGs to support MEBs, and MAWs to support MEFs.
Each of these units capable of deploying in two echelons, a fly-in echelon
which is very heavy in spare parts, and a follow-on echelon with the test
and repair equipment.
     Though the MALSC concept would seem to be capable of supporting
many different organizational structures of Marine aviation in a myriad of
situations, it is not without its weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Due to the
complexity of modern aircraft, the number of repair parts, pieces and types
of support and test equipment required to maintain these aircraft is
phenomenal. The CH53E, for example, requires approximately 1800
separate line items of supply and two mobile maintenance facilities (MMFs)
just to support one four plane detachment. The value of each of these CSPs
is over 16 million dollars. The CSP to support one four plane detachment of
AV8B aircraft consists of 8 MMFs, contains over 3000 line items and costs
over 30 million dollars.
     In order for a MALS supply department to be able to manage the
transfer of these CSPs and to do the daily accounting for repair parts bought
and expended, each owns a large computer with over 20 separate input
terminals. The computer itself is housed in three MMFs, and when relocated
to an expeditionary site, must have a 20 KVA generator to provide power and
air conditioning.
     The costs associated with support of these aircraft also requires the
use of an extensive information system, another large computer with all of
its input terminals. This computer system allows all attached squadrons to
order replacement parts directly from the MALS supply department, tracks
the repair of each large repair part, accounts for the funds expended in
aircraft repair, maintains the status of various aircraft, and reorders the
repair parts expended during the repair process. This system also is housed
in five MMFs and must have miles of fiber-optic cabling to link the system
with each squadron.
     Each MALS also has an avionics repair complex that grows in size
proportional to the complexity of the aircraft supported. Because of the
complexity of onboard communications, electronic warfare jammers, radar
suppressors and onboard computers, the equipment to repair these systems
is extremely delicate and extensive. This equipment also is housed in MMFs
which also require air conditioning and generators to provide uninterrupted
     The MALSC concept has also produced new problems of its own. For
example, the MMFs and ancilliary equipment associated with each MALS
produces a large and immobile signature such that this complex cannot be
concealed or covered. Each of the computer systems previously mentioned
is housed in MMFs as are many of the CSPs. The deployment and mobility
requirements for each MALS surpasses the capabilities of the Marine Wing
Support Squadron (MWSS) within each MAG. For example, if MALS-16 were
to deploy, it would take approximately 40 MMFs to its airfield, while
MALS-11 would deploy with over 100 MMFs to its airfield site. The
mobility requirements of a MALS ensures that it will be expeditionery only
once--from CONUS to its deployed airfield. 9  Upon reaching its destination,
the size, weight, complexity and immobility of the MALS ensures that it
will be unable to redeploy. A large, immobile, and highly critical complex
as this makes it a prime target for enemy air and special forces attacks.
     In a recent Armed Forces Journal article, LTGEN Pitman, Marine Corps
Deputy Chief of Staff for Aviation, states his vision for Marine aviaiton of
the future to be all VSTOL. He envisions VSTOL aircraft operating from
mobile airfields without fixed-site operations. 10  This drastic change in
aviaiton employment requires that aviation support again reevaluate its
support concept. In order to efficiently and effectively support this new
employment plan, the MALSC concept would require some revisions. The
first is to adopt the support concept used by the MWSS in providing
aviaiton fuels to aircraft. This concept provides for echelonlng of support
from rear to the front. Large, immobile supply points are placed far to the
rear, smaller and more mobile intermediate points are placed nearer the
actual operating sites, while smaller and even more mobile support
packages or packups are located directly with the operational forces. The
MWSS concept provides for greater flexibility, quick response, and a greatly
reduced requirement for rear area security.
     Applying this model to aviation, the MALS complex would remain far
to the rear or even aboard amphibious shipping. These sites would need less
defense and would not be required to be expeditionery more than once. A
second level of supply, or intermediate supply point, would be located at the
squadrons sites nearer to the fighting. This level would maintain supply
packups and repair equipment to do daily aircraft trouble-shooting and
repair. Located nearer to the front at Forward Arming and Refueling Points
(FARP) sites, would be the frontline or first echelon of aircraft
maintenance. Packups of major repair items, minimal repair equipment, all
placed on the back of five ton trucks would comprise this first echelon.
This echelon would be highly mobile, present little signature and would be
extremely flexible and responsive to support requirements.
     Aviation support, then, would increase in complexity, size and depth
from front to rear, but would also decrease in mobility. To further the
echeloning concept, MALS and squadron maintenance personnel must be
organized into echelons. The organization to accomplish this is actually
practiced regularly by squadrons when deployed for desert or cold weather
training. A small cadre of squadron maintenance personnel with five to ten
personnel from the MALS would deploy with the aircraft--the first echelon.
The remainder of the squadron remains at the home airfield site, maintains
constant contact with the detachment, and sends additional support forward
as required--the second echelon. The remainder of the MALS remains at the
deployed site, provides assistance to the squadron as required, and performs
all duties for repair and accounting for materials at its home site--the
third echelon. In organizing for future employments, Marine aviation could
easily institutionalize this concept already in practice.
     Finally, the equipment and materials to support the MALS in this
echeloning concept must also be in place. Since the MALS complex need
only be expeditionery from CONUS to one deployed site, and squadron and
designated MALS personnel the only personnel required to deploy to austere
sites, the only new equipment needed is that required to support the mobile
first and second echelon. Equipment which emphasizes mobility, simplicity
with a small signature is needed. Increased use of small embarkation boxes
or portable containers, small, mobile vehicles to transport the first
echelon, and hardened, mobile aircraft test equipment needs to be procured
and placed in daily use. Additionally, portable bar-coders and bar-code
readers should be used to facilitate repair accountability and aid in the
resupply effort. All of these items are inexpensive and available
     Aviation support should always reevaluate its concept as the
employment of aviation changes. The support concept for WWII was
instrumental in aiding Marine aviation to leave its mark on that war. As
times and circumstances changed in the 1950's and 60's, so did aviation
support. In the 80's, as the Marine air-ground team adopted the MAGTF
concept, aviation support again reevaluated its capabilities and adopted the
MALSC concept. As Marine aviation employment in the year 2010 is
expected to be markedly different, aviation support must again reevaluate
its capabilities. The concept chosen must build on lessons learned from the
past and always allow for flexibility and ingenuity. The solution provided
allows for building on a proven conept with minimal revision; however, the
key to the future success or failure of aviation support will always be in
the willingness to constantly reevaluate and accept change.
1. Headquarters Marine Corps Historical Division, Marine Corps Aviation in
WWII; A Chronology, May 1945, p. 10
2. Headquarters Marine Corps Historical Division, 2D MAW: Outline History.
May 1945, p. 5
3. Carter, Worrall RADM, USN (RET), Beans, Bullets and Black Oil,
Department of the Navy, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.,
1953, p. 49
4. IBID, p. 78
5. IBID,p. 110
6. IBID, p. 32
7. Interview Colonel D.D. Davis, USMC, 2D MAW ALD, 16 Jan 1990
9. Command and Staff College 1990, MAGTF Readings, Annex C, p. 16
10. IBID, Annex B, p. 15
1. Beans, Bullets and Black Oil, RADM Worrall Carter, USN (RET), Dept. of
the Navy, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1953
2. Flying Leathernecks, Harbler and Dechant, Doubleday and Doran Inc.,
Garden City N.Y., 1944
3. U.S. Marine Corps Aviation: 1912 to the Present, Peter B. Mersky, The
Nautical and Aviation Publishing Company of America, Baltimore, Md, 1987
4. Marine Corps Aviation in WWII: A Chronology Headquarters Marine Corps
Historical Division, May 1945
5. 1st MAW: Outline History, Headquarters Marine Corps Historical Division,
May 1945
6. 2D MAW: Outline History, Headquarters Marine Corps Historical Division,
May 1945
7. MAGTF Readings, Command and Staff College 1990, Annex B and C
8. Interview, Colonel D.D. Davis, USMC, 2D MAW ALD, 16 Jan 1990

Join the mailing list